Shoppers paid sharply higher prices for a variety of goods in June as inflation kept its hold on a slowing U.S. economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.
The consumer price index, a broad measure of everyday goods and services related to the cost of living, soared 9.1% from a year ago, above the 8.8% Dow Jones estimate. That marked the fastest pace for inflation going back to November 1981.Excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core CPI increased 5.9%, compared with the 5.7% estimate. Core inflation peaked at 6.5% in March and has been nudging down since.
On a monthly basis, headline CPI rose 1.3% and core CPI was up 0.7%, compared to respective estimates of 1.1% and 0.5%.Taken together, the numbers seemed to counter the narrative that inflation may be peaking, as the gains were based across a variety of categories.
“CPI delivered another shock, and as painful as June’s higher number is, equally as bad is the broadening sources of inflation,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Though CPI’s spike is led by energy and food prices, which are largely global problems, prices continue to mount for domestic goods and services, from shelter to autos to apparel.”
The inflation reading could push the Federal Reserve into an even more aggressive position.
Traders upped their bets on the pace of interest rate increases ahead. For the July 26-27 meeting, a full percentage point move now has a better than even chance of happening, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool as of 10:40 a.m. ET.
“U.S. inflation is above 9%, but it is the breadth of the price pressures that is really concerning for the Federal Reserve.” said James Knightley, ING’s chief international economist. “With supply conditions showing little sign of improvement the onus is the on the Fed to hit the brakes via higher rates to allow demand to better match supply conditions. The recession threat is rising.”
Up across the board
Energy prices surged 7.5% on the month and were up 41.6% on a 12-month basis. The food index increased 1%, while shelter costs, which make up about one-third of the CPI rose 0.6% for the month and were up 5.6% annually. This was the sixth straight month that food at home rose at least 1%.
Rental costs rose 0.8% in June, the largest monthly increase since April 1986, according to the BLS.
Stocks mostly slumped following the data while government bond yields surged.
Much of the inflation rise came from gasoline prices, which increased 11.2% on the month and just shy of 60% for the 12-month period. Electricity costs rose 1.7% and 13.7%, respectively. New and used vehicle prices posted respective monthly gains of 0.7% and 1.6%.
Medical-care costs climbed 0.7% on the month, propelled by a 1.9% increase in dental services, the largest monthly rise ever recorded for that sector in data that goes back to 1995.
Airline fares were one of the few areas seeing a decline, falling 1.8% in June though still up 34.1% from a year ago. The meat, poultry, fish and eggs category also dropped 0.4% for the month but is up 11.7% on an annual basis.
The increases marked another tough month for consumers, who have been suffering through soaring prices for everything from airline tickets to used cars to bacon and eggs.
Real incomes fall further
For workers, the numbers meant another hit to the wallet, as inflation-adjusted incomes, based on average hourly earnings, fell 1% for the month and were down 3.6% from a year ago, according to a separate BLS release.
Policymakers have struggled to come up with answer to a situation that is rooted in multiple factors, including clogged supply chains, outsized demand for goods over services, and trillions of dollars in Covid-related stimulus spending that has made consumers both flush with cash and confronted with the highest prices since the early days of the Reagan administration.
Federal Reserve officials have instituted a series of interest rate increases that have taken benchmark short-term borrowing costs up by 1.5 percentage points. The central bank is expected to continue hiking until inflation comes closer to its 2% longer-run target rate.
White House officials have blamed the uptick in prices on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though inflation was already moving aggressively higher before that attack in February. President Joe Biden has called on gas station owners to lower prices.
The administration and leading Democrats also have blamed what they call greedy corporations for using the pandemic as an excuse to raise prices. After-tax corporate profits, however, have increased just 1.3% in aggregate since the second quarter of 2021, when inflation took hold.
In a statement following the report, Biden said “tackling inflation is my top priority,” and repeated previous calls for oil and gas companies to lower prices and Congress to vote on legislation he said will reduce costs for various products and services.
There is some reason to think the July inflation numbers will cool.
Gasoline prices have come down from their June peak, with a gallon of regular falling to $4.64, a 4.7% drop for the month, according to Energy Information Administration data.
The S&P GSCI commodities index, a broad-based measure of prices for multiple goods, has fallen 7.3% in July, though it remains up 17.2% for the year. That has come as wheat futures have fallen 8% since July 1, while soybeans are down 6% and corn is off 6.6% during the same period.
View from the trucking industry
“I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Brian Antonellis, senior vice president of fleet operations for Fleet Advantage, a leasing and asset management company for the trucking industry based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Antonellis expects production capacity to ramp up gradually, helping to create a more competitive environment for an industry that has felt the strain of rising fuel prices, a historically tight labor market and the supply chain issues that have hampered the ability to get products to shelves.
“For probably 10 to 15 years before the pandemic, the industry fell into a stable routine where costs up across the board somewhere between 1 to 3 percent a year. It was easy to budget, it was easy to forecast, it was easy to build into rates,” he said. “The challenge we face today is it’s not that 1-3 percent anymore, it’s 10 to 20 percent depending on what cost bucket you’re talking about.”
Still, he said trucking companies are managing to get through with pricing power and creative financing.
“I do think people honestly are not trying to overcharge the customer,” Antonellis said. “They’re not being predatory about it. But they are trying to find that fine line. What do we pass forward? How do we look at the costs coming in?”
With the U.S. economic picture getting increasingly cloudy, he acknowledged that the industry is not “recession-proof.”
“There are going to be challenges,” Antonellis said. “I don’t think it’s all negative. I do think there will be challenges for the next six months. But I do think we’re on an upswing.”
Correction: The June CPI gain was the strongest since November 1981. An earlier version misstated the month. The estimate for core CPI was 5.7%. An earlier version misstated the percentage.